I know, it sounds dramatic. Admittedly, I was up late the night before working on research, but this was a man’s LIFE.
Last night, I came across a newspaper article a friend had posted on Facebook. Her local county coroner’s office was looking for help identifying the families of two veterans who had died in the last month.
The coroner’s office had used its resources, with help from the police and the local veterans’ service commission, but had come up empty-handed. They would have to rely on tips from the public to find the families of these men. And if that failed? The Veterans Service Commission would provide a small stipend for burial assistance and contact the National Cemetery Administration and the VA to help arrange the burial.
These men would have been honored as vets and buried, but their families might never know what had happened to them. What a tragedy!
It felt a little cocky to start the research. After all, who am I to think I could do better than the people who had already been tackling this problem for weeks? Certainly, the resources at my disposal were far fewer.
But I made headway. Years of practice locating living relatives came in handy. My genealogy skills proved their worth and I found the family of one of the men. I prepared a sourced report and emailed it to myself so I could contact the coroner’s office in the morning.
I woke up this morning with mixed feelings. I was confident that I had found the right people. I was eager to help return a lost sheep to the fold. But I also questioned myself. Self-esteem has always been a problem for me. Was I really capable of doing this? Had I made a mistake? Were these people going to think I was crazy, calling out of the blue and saying that I knew who this man’s family was (without ever having met them)?
But a friend posted a video to Facebook. One that I seriously needed to see.
It was time to ask the universe.
I called the coroner’s office and emailed them my report. Then, as I mentioned before, I cried. I cried because I had taken a leap of faith; I had trusted myself to be good enough. I cried because there was a man who might not ever be remembered properly if I wasn’t willing to do what I could do. I cried because I actually DO have the ability to make the world a better place. It didn’t happen the way I imagined it as a child, but that’s what I had always dreamed about: changing things, making things better, having an impact on the lives of others.
For lack of a better term, it was like using my powers for good.
Genealogy isn’t just putting together charts and holding on to old dusty photographs so that future generations will remember. Genealogy is here and now. We have the power to do something amazing, if we are willing to try.
Only days after narrowly escaping charges of theft, Stanley Robert Smith was under arrest again. Unluckily for at least one other man in Findlay, the police gave reporters the wrong name.
It was initially reported that 19 year old Ralph Smith was being held in the city jail. The situation wasn’t cleared up until the next day, no doubt resulting in a good deal of embarrassment for the innocent Ralph Smith and his family.
There were actually four men by that name living in Findlay at the time, the closest in age being a 24-year-old quarry laborer, living with his parents. How would you like to come home from work that day? “Son, is there something you’d like to tell us?”
By the next morning, February 20, 1929, the details of Stanley’s crime (and his identity!) had crystallized. A full report appeared in the paper. George Stringfellow, the owner of the S&S Drugstore in downtown Findlay, had filed an affidavit, accusing Stanley Robert Smith of passing a worthless check.
A Building With a Past
The S&S Drugstore was located at 319 South Main Street in Findlay, just opposite the county courthouse.
Its name came from the last initials of its two owners, George T. Stringfellow and R. S. Shoemaker. Both men were registered pharmacists. George Stringfellow had been the manager of C. F. Jackson’s drug department for 15 years before purchasing S&S.
C. F. Jackson’s was a department store located at the southwest corner of South Main and West Sandusky streets. The department store building was known as the Glass Block and was a Findlay institution from its opening in 1905 through April 1933.
The building S & S operated out of (pictured above) had been a dedicated pharmacy for many years. The S & S Drugstore opened in late May 1926. For five years prior to that, O. M. Wolgamot ran the shop as Wolgamot’s drug store. He had purchased the business from J. C. Firmin, who had been a pharmacist there in the center of town for over 30 years.
In fact, as George Stringfellow was clearing out cabinets and drawers, preparing the shop for its grand opening, he discovered a number of old newspapers, dating back as early as 1893.
Whaddja Bring Me?
Stanley’s bad check was written for the amount of $3.80. I’m very curious to know what it was he purchased. What could have been worth going to jail for?
The following advertisement from S&S Drugstore at Christmas that year gives an idea of the kind of spending power we’re talking about:
(And just so you know, toilet water wouldn’t be as horrible a gift as it sounds to us today. It was a dilute form of perfume. Still, I’m tempted to tell the kids that’s what they’re getting for Christmas.)
Look Down, Look Down…
When I first read about Stanley and these first two arrests, stealing butter and spending money he didn’t have at a drug store, I thought his was a Jean Valjean-type situation. Here was this poor man, just trying to scrape by and feed and care for his family in a time of economic hardship. However, given the rest of his history, I’m not so sure that was the case. Just you wait…
George Henry and Mary Lucinda (Rauch) Smith, my great-great-grandparents and the parents of Stanley Robert Smith, in the yard at their daughter Clara Arras’s house. This photo was likely taken on the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary, the celebration of which occurred 69 years ago today:
If there’s anything that can be said for Stanley Smith, it’s that he didn’t do anything by halves. The first time he was sent to prison in 1929, he had been arrested three times in the course of a couple of weeks.
A Slippery Situation
Stanley’s first arrest was for the theft of butter from the Findlay Dairy Company.
The Findlay Dairy, founded in 1900 by Daniel E. Child, had a very interesting, open relationship with the community. At its large plant at 219 North Main Street, the usual operations went on with production of butter, cottage cheese, and other dairy products and large blocks of ice for use in customers’ iceboxes.
Rather than waiting for the iceman to deliver, people could pull their cars into the south driveway of the Findlay Dairy plant and purchase ice at a discounted rate of 40 cents per hundredweight.
Local farmers could sell their cream directly to the company by heading over to the Findlay Dairy Cash Cream station on Broadway. Interestingly, in 1927, this station was run by an Arras:
Besides selling their products in local groceries, the Findlay Dairy Company operated its own shop outside the plant at North Main.
It is no great surprise that butter was the commodity Stanley chose to pilfer for a profit. Based on local advertisements from the time, butter cost over twice as much per pound as sirloin steak. Additionally, it would not likely have spoiled before he could sell it on.
Whether the heist was planned or if Stanley just happened to walk past an unattended delivery truck remains a mystery. Once the butter was acquired, Stanley approached local grocers, attempting to pass on his stolen goods. Presumably, it was one or more of these more upright gentlemen who reported his ploy to the police.
Stanley was arrested, but the Findlay Dairy Company did not press charges after the butter was returned.
Considering how many people are actually in a family, encompassing all the generations back through recorded history, it seems fairly obvious that, in researching the lives of these thousands of people, eventually you’re going to encounter a little bit of everything.
However, somehow it still came as a bit of a surprise to me to hear that my grandmother’s uncle was in prison. This was the strict, straight-as-an-arrow part of our family. The part with the older folks of strong, silent, upright characters. Those who scared the grandchildren, even when they weren’t doing anything but copying down recipes from talk radio.
Several years ago, I did a little half-hearted research into our black sheep, Stanley Robert Smith, and learned about some of the tragic events that followed his arrest and imprisonment in 1938. It wasn’t until just recently, when I decided to really start fleshing out his story, that I was struck by how deep an impact his early choices had.
Stanley Robert Smith, also known as Bob (Yeah, I know. Bob Smith. Fun to find in records, right?), was born in Hancock County, Ohio, around 1910 to George Henry Smith and Mary Lucinda Rauch.
Later in life, he would list himself as 10th of 11 children. In truth, he was the 11th of 12. His oldest sister, Victoria Emelina “Dora” Smith, had died just before 3 months of age. Family stories hold that the Smiths displayed a photo of little Dora in their home for the rest of their lives, but maybe Bob never asked who the baby was, or maybe he preferred to speak only of his living siblings. Dora did, after all, die 21 years before his birth.
According to Stanley’s sister, Hulda, the family lived in Arlington, Ohio, from 1909 to 1921. George Henry Smith was a carpenter–alternately listed in censuses as a laborer–and no doubt money was tight, raising eleven children on his income. Regardless, by 1920, with seven children still at home, G. H. Smith and his wife owned their home outright.
A Fresh Start?
Ultimately, I am not sure why the Smiths moved to Findlay. All I can do is speculate. Maybe one of you out there will be able to provide me with some insight!
Perhaps 1921’s relocation was motivated by a desire to improve the family’s prospects. Following the end of WWI, the U.S. entered an eighteen month long recession. Large numbers of returning soldiers competed over very few available jobs. Findlay, with its higher population and larger economic base, would likely have offered a carpenter like G. H. Smith with more opportunities for steady work.
This theory appears to be supported by newspaper articles from the time, such as the one below, from the Findlay Morning Republican of 13 Oct 1921 (the print is a bit spotty, so I’ve transcribed the article in the caption for your convenience):
Certainly, for a time, things were looking up. By April 1928, G. H. Smith was able to hire other carpenters to work under him.
Little could he have imagined the challenge that lay around the corner, in the form of the Great Depression.
By the time the 1930 Census was taken, the Smith family consisted of G. H. Smith, an out-of work house carpenter, running his own business, his wife Mary, and their youngest daughter, Alma. Unfortunately, the unemployment schedules have been destroyed, so I can’t determine exactly how long George had been out of work.
While the Smith family and so many others like them struggled to make ends meet, another situation developed that may have had a significant impact on Stanley’s future.
An Unexpected Result
The 18th Amendment, which instituted a complete ban on the manufacture and sale of alcohol in the United States, came into effect in January 1920. Though the motives behind it were honorable, prohibition created far more problems than it solved. Now that citizens could no longer obtain alcohol by legal means, the criminal element was more than happy to step in to fill that need.
Organized crime syndicates in major cities across the country ran massive bootlegging operations. As time went on and prohibition became more and more unpopular, leaders of these groups were sometimes portrayed as a sort of folk hero, a trend that would continue and intensify through the years of the Great Depression. Many of these individuals are still recognizable to us today, including Al Capone, John Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd and Bonnie and Clyde.
Perhaps Stanley was impressed by these stories and dreamed of the sort of lifestyle he thought he might lead as a gangster.
The impact of this glorification of the criminal world on the younger generation was such that, in 1934, a reformed criminal was brought in to Findlay High School to speak to the students about the perils of following such a path.
What’s Your Problem, Stanley?
The rest of the Smith offspring went on to be hardworking, productive members of society. Stanley, however, chose a vastly different life for himself. Did growing up with economic uncertainty lead him to decide he would do anything he deemed necessary to keep money flowing in? Did he get some kind of pleasure from breaking the law? Did he idolize Public-Enemy-era gangsters like Al Capone? His motivation remains a mystery. His actions, however, left a trail that has followed him beyond the grave.
The 15th Annual Arras Family Reunion was held on August 15, 1922, at the home of Philip D. Arras, four miles southwest of Jenera, Ohio.
Initially, I couldn’t quite read the year on the sign at the bottom of the picture:
but luckily for me, an announcement of the reunion was published in the Findlay Morning Republican newspaper (and even mistakenly appeared twice, making it possible to read portions of the announcement that were misprinted!):
Philip D. Arras was born 14 Aug 1853, the son of Johannes and Margaret (Essinger) Arras, and grandson of Johann Peter and Anna Margaretha (Hofmann) Arras. The latter couple emigrated from the Odenwald in Germany in 1831, bringing along several books which were still in the possession of the family at the time of the 15th Annual Reunion:
The center book in the pile, which at the time was 268 years old, was a German prayer book printed in 1654 that had been passed down in the Arras family. Henry Arras, who, as I’ve mentioned before, was very interested in the family history, was extremely proud of this book. In 1936, he entered it in a historical display held by the annual Farmers Institute in Jenera and won first place for the oldest relic.
One of the books was also a family bible which contained entries for the Arras family since before their emigration to the United States in 1831. My great-uncle, Theron Arras, had possession of that bible years ago before his home was broken into and the thieves stole it, amongst other things.
Here are the (very few) people I recognize:
In the section above, the woman sitting in the lower right in the dark dress, appears to be Elizabeth Ann Wahl, the daughter of Friedrich and Anna Maria (Blaser) Wahl, wife of Peter D. Arras. I believe the man holding the dark hat is her son, Samuel Frederick John Arras.
The woman just to the left of Elizabeth looks like Wilhelmina “Mina” Arras, daughter of Johann Philip and Katherine (Heldman) Arras, wife of Christian Essinger. Beside her may be her sister, Louisa “Lucy” Arras. Lucy was the wife of George Nessler.
In the enlargement I posted of the books, the boy with his head just to the right of the sign is Willard Balthasar Arras, son of George Henry and Johanna Magdalena (Crates) Arras. His sister, Elvina (Arras) Rausch Weihrauch, can be seen in the photograph just below, holding her infant son, Clarence Weihrauch (wearing a dark outfit and light newsboy cap):
Their mother, Johanna Magdalena (Crates) Arras, my great-great-grandmother, is below, the woman on the upper left:
This reunion photo is one that I’ve always wished I could share with all the distant cousins I can find. I’d love to be able to identify every single person in it! Hopefully, eventually, we’ll be able to do just that. So, can you help? Do you recognize anyone?
Andrew McAuley Moore, my husband’s second great-grandfather, was described as having been heavily involved in the Foundry Boys’ Association as it got its start in Motherwell.
The Foundry Boys Religious Society was initially created in Cowcaddens in 1865. Cowcaddens, near the center of Glasgow, was at that time a slum district. Many young boys were recruited as apprentices to the workmen at the iron foundries.
Some of these boys, free of parental oversight for the first time in their young lives, may have taken the opportunity to run a little wild. At the very least, individuals in the community became concerned about the possibility of such developments.
The Foundry Boys Religious Society was therefore founded in order to educate and provide a healthy social outlet for these boys. Bible classes were held as well as lessons in “reading, writing, arithmetic, geography and music” (Edinburgh Evening Courant, 20 Oct 1866). Similar groups were formed for mill girls.
The boys were provided with military-style uniforms, much like those of the Boys Brigade, and put through rigorous drills to instill discipline.
Initially opened as the Victoria Theatre in April 1871, the Music Hall on Watson Street was the site of the first meetings of the Motherwell Foundry Boys Association. The local group seems to have had an even stronger religious focus. Members were selected from those children not regularly attending any church, ensuring that these individuals would also receive the Christian message.
The first meeting, in May 1875, drew a group of 60. By 1884, four hundred children were members of the Foundry Boys at the Music Hall, and an additional two meetings in Muir Street and Craigneuk had been added, with around 100 children at each of these.
Each year, the children had a summer outing. Unlike the original Cowcaddens branch, the Motherwell Foundry Boys did not have to travel far to get out in the fresh air.
The three Motherwell and Craigneuk groups gathered and marched to the strains of music provided by the Hallelujah Brass Band. Frequently the destination was the gardens and fields surrounding a local “big house” such as Muirhouse or the Dalzell Estate.
There, after the singing of hymns and recitation of a prayer, the children feasted on buns and milk. The remainder of the afternoon was spent in organized games and races, tours of the gardens or orchards, or simply relaxing.
By 1886, the Foundry Boys, now alternatively called the Working Boys and Girls’ Religious Society, had grown large enough to build their own new hall, the Christian Institute. In March of that year, the annual soiree was held as the official opening of the new building.
The annual soiree invariably consisted of allegorical speeches, followed by recitations by the children themselves. Prizes were received by those who were able to correctly repeat the past year’s texts, as well as children who attended Foundry Boys meetings on a regular basis. The evening’s events might wrap up with a bit of fun, such as the magic lantern show presented in 1894.
The magic lantern was an early type of projector using glass slides. These shows were fantastically popular.
The show presented at the 1894 Foundry Boys’ Soiree in Motherwell was “Jessica’s First Prayer”. This tale of an impoverished young girl, abandoned by her alcoholic mother, who teaches the owner of a coffee shop the true meaning of Christian charity was initially published in 1866 in the journal Sunday at Home. The next year it appeared as a freestanding book and, by the turn of the century, had sold over a million and a half copies, outselling even the modern classic, “Alice in Wonderland”, published in 1865.
The work of the Foundry Boys Association in Motherwell continued into at least the early 1940s, long after Andrew McAuley Moore’s death in 1914. He would no doubt have been proud of the lasting difference he had made in the lives of so many children.
Were any of you members of the Foundry Boys, either in Motherwell or elsewhere? I’d love to hear more about your experiences.